Translations at SU Drama


By Craig Thornton

In Translations, a group of students at a hedge school in 1833 Ireland are greeted by two British Army engineers that intend to map their town and change its place names from Gaelic to English. What ensue are the trials and tribulations of people living with a language barrier that quietly outlines a division between two very different cultures. Translations explores deeply rooted political and cultural issues about the imposition of the British on the Irish and what it means to preserve culture.

 Translations will run November 15—23 in the Storch Theater at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 315-443-3275, and in person at the SU Drama Box Office, 820 East Genesee Street.

 Translations is set in a hedge-school: a secret educational institution originally created as a place to teach Catholic values when Anglo Protestants prohibited Catholic education in Ireland. This concept dated back to the 1690’s. By 1833, when this play takes place, these schools were far less secretive as Ireland progressed towards educational freedom. Friel uses the hedge school for Translations as a reminder of the constant shadow of British influence on the Irish.

 When the community in Translations becomes divided by language, questions of cultural identity and moments of humor ensue. This includes a love story between one of the army engineers and a local resident where neither can declare their love for each other because one speaks Gaelic and the other English.  They know they’re in love, but they have no way to articulate it.


Written in 1980 by the man known as the “Irish Chekov,” Translations was originally produced in Ireland at the Field Day Theater Company, founded by playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea who starred in the production.

Friel is known for his “Chekovian style” as he uses few strong words to illustrate large societal implications, and creates moments of sadness that are not just sorrowful but entertaining. His most famous works besides Translations include Philadelphia, Here I Come!, Faith Healer, and Dancing at Lughnasa that won three Tony Awards including “Best Play” in the early 1990’s. Irish actor Stephen Rea is best known in America for his roles in The Crying Game for which he won an Oscar and V for Vendetta.

Translations premiered in the United States in 1981 at the Manhattan Theater Club and made a brief appearance on Broadway in 1995 featuring actor Brian Dennehy. In 2007 it was revived at the Biltmore Theater in New York City.

Gerardine Clark, director of the SU Drama production, explained the complexity of Translations, a play that Brian Friel has said is essentially about language.

All our emotions are tied very strongly to our first language,” said Clark. In tackling the Irish/English conflict, Clark thinks that “Friel argues for both sides of the question,” and that “without an abundance of natural resources, Ireland would be hard put to enter the modern world without the English language. However, one should be free to live in a world (language) that is beautiful and ornate.”


Gerardine Clark is a Professor of Drama at Syracuse University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts. She has been a professional actor, director and playwright for nearly 30 years. Her adaptation of A Christmas Carol has been produced 3 times at Syracuse Stage. Dr. Clark has also written two books, Unnatural Acts and Practical Poetics and she is currently writing two plays, The Last Meeting of the First Fifty Club and a musical adaptation of Tartuffe. Dr. Clark’s last play, a musical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, was produced by the New Victory Theater in New York in 1998.





Sunday, December 4, 2016
, Watertown, NY

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